By Joseph Staszewski
A record opening day crowd descended on the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for the start of the US Open.
The announced crowd of 37,601 for the afternoon session saw plenty of great tennis before a sellout crowd of 23,771 filled Arthur Ashe Stadium at night on Monday.
The later group capped the day off with a musical performance from Josh Grobin and Lena Hall and wins for Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal. Vanessa Williams sang the national anthem after Mayor Bill de Blasio and Billie Jean King addressed the crowd.
The extra people on the grounds were noticeable to regulars at the event and in their minds it didn’t enhance the experience. Former Bayside resident Joan Lagervais, who has been coming since 1969 when the event was in Forest Hills, said a number of the lines for water fountains and the bathrooms were longer. Far Rockaway native Steven Arkow, who flew in from Los Angeles to attend like he has for 40 years, called it “a zoo” and “chaos.”
Briarwood resident Derek Holley said he enjoyed watching the U.S. Open qualifiers the week prior because of the easier access to the courts.
“That’s one of the great unsung New York events because you get to see real great tennis and enjoy this without feeling like you are in Times Square,” he said.
Not everyone was feeling cramped.
Former Forest Hills native Homer Ramsey, who currently lives in Roslyn, thoroughly enjoyed his day with his wife Karen and two young kids Jake and Ava. To him the mass of people is what you expect when you come to Flushing. “It’s always crowded, but that is the Open,” Ramsey said.
Fans also got their first look at the structural improvements being made to the grounds along with new food items such as the Sweet Chili “Thaietnamese” food truck and Juice Press drink stand.
The 5,000-ton retractable roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium is structurally complete with the finishing touches being put on after this US Open. Construction is on going on the new Grandstand court that is scheduled for completion in 2016.
“With the construction of the Grandstand, we are building a larger stadium court that will seat over 8,000 patrons, while giving them a close-to-the action feel, at the same time,” said Brendan McIntyre, USTA Director of Corporate Communications. “Our goal with the entire Transformation is to enhance all of the US Open’s visitors time at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center.”
The new roof got mostly positive reviews with fans calling it awesome and something that will add prestige to the event. Others said it changes the feel and sounds of matching at the stadium, now that is no longer a truly open-air building. Williams could feel the change as well during her match with Vitalia Diatchenko that ended, 6-0, 2-0 after Diatchenko withdrawing with an injury.
“It’s different,” Williams said. “It feels more intimate, which is weird, but it does. It feels more private. It feels like a dome. I think that’s the best way to describe it.”
The roof overall is a welcome addition.
“You have to have new things,” Jamaica resident Vanessa Ganesh said. “Sometimes it is an inconvenience, but in the long run it is best.”
Fans are hoping to see a long run from Williams. A title would make her the first player to claim the calendar slam since Steffi Graf in since 1988 and claim her 22nd Major title.
Williams got some help when Maria Sharapova has to withdraw from the event because of injury.